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Jewishly Proud

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After 2,000 years of anti-Semitism, discrimination and persecution, we have suffered our share of abuse. How can we heal?

The greatest casualty of abuse is pride and self-worth. And we struggle with that, as a People. Like the old joke about two Jews facing the firing squad, and as commands are shouted out, “Ready, aim..” one of the Jews cries out, “Shema Yisrael!!” The other Jew hisses, “Be quiet, you want to get us in trouble?!”

Indeed, we have a chronic, desperate need for approval, for love and popularity with non-Jews. And that’s a symptom of severely damaged pride.

With the Six-Day War, Jews had a chance to stand up straight and be proud. Suddenly, Jews felt pride they hadn’t felt in a long, long time. But still, it was pride despite our Judaism, not pride in our Judaism. We were proud of our military prowess. In fact, for a lot of Jews the feeling was, “We might be Jews, but we are tough!” In other words, we might be Jewish, but in a big way we are just like everyone else. So the pride was despite our identity, not because of it. And that is not a complete healing from the abuse.

The same can be said for the great pride Jews take in celebrity Jewish men and women, stars in the fields of science, medicine, music, film, sports etc. We take pride in the fact that so many non-Jews admire a Jew. Once again, the pride is despite ourselves, not of ourselves.

True pride is when we are proud of ourselves, our Jewish identities. When we are proud of our Jewishness, Jewish traditions, holidays, sages, spirituality, Torah, the Mitzvahs – that is Jewish pride. That is Jews being proud of being Jewish, proud of who we are and proud of that which sets apart and makes us unique, not that which makes us just like everyone else.

The Rebbe’s desire for Jews to celebrate their faith in public has gone a long way to healing the abuse. The Mitzvah “tanks” where men wrap Tefillin in public and the giant Chanukah Menorahs and other campaigns with the same design, these have taught us to celebrate our selves, not our acceptance or recognition by others.

That is called pride.

2,000 years later, the true healing is well underway.

Getting Closer

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Getting closer to someone is risky business.

In particular, there are two pitfalls to look out for.

  1. Does the other party want you any closer? If the answer is no, and you try anyway, you’re not a friend, you’re not getting closer, and you’re probably headed for criminal charges.
  2. Is there anywhere closer to get? Or are you perhaps already as close you can get?

Find out if they want you closer. If the answer is no, give them space and stay where you are. If the answer is yes, find out how you may get closer.

One way to get closer to someone – with their permission – is to find something that is closer to them than you are and provide it for them. When you are the source of the fulfillment of truly deep need, you assume the closeness of that need as well. That’s called “getting closer.”

Whereas deciding unilaterally on a course for getting closer to them is wrongheaded, ill-advised and selfish. Without knowing what they need, it is indeed impossible.

Torah has told us that fulfilling the Mitzahs brings us closer to G-d. But that can only be so because of two critical factors:

  1. He has asked us to do them, thus inviting us to get closer.
  1. The Mitzvahs are all-important to Him, they are His deepest need and desire. Thus when we provide Him with the fulfillment of that need for Mitzvahs, we are as well.

With permission, with guidance and with genuine needs, we can get closer.

Q&A: Omniscience

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CBC asked:

“G d is the knower, the object of knowledge, and the knowledge itself. So He knows all, past , future, present. He can’t help but know. And yet we have some limited degree of free will. And yet because He is the knower, of course He knows what we will choose. And we often choose wrongly. It all breaks down for me about here. Is it that G d knows what we will choose and yet hopes he is wrong? It sounds ridiculous.”


Dear CBC,

I love a thoughtful question. Thank you.

First, G-d’s knowledge extends to all existence, past, present, and future. This is because all existence derives from G-d’s personal attention. Hence if He is constantly creating everything He must also be aware of it.

Secondly, past, present and future are all part of what He creates. He is creating the future or has already created the future.

Now, if you say that He knows the future, you don’t mean that He ispredicting the future like some soothsayer. Rather, that He knows the future. How can He know the future if it hasn’t happened yet? There is nothing to know! So knowing the future assumes that a future exists, has already happened and that this is something to know. He already knows it. We won’t know until we get there.

In other words: He doesn’t know what will happen, He sees the future already ‘happened’. He knows what you will choose only because you have already made your choice. He sees you choosing it and it is your free choice that He is observing – He knows your choice now because you have already chosen – in the future, which is for Him, the same as the past.

Your choice, therefore, does not come from His knowledge; His knowledge comes from your choice.

Thanks again for the question



What Do We Know About Creation? – – Part VI

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To make a dwelling place for G-d in the lowest world (that’s our world) is the reason for which He created the universe.

A dwelling place means a place where you can be yourself, let your hair down.

The first requirement for a divine home is to accept G-d as He is: infinite or finite, kind or stern, forgiving or punishing, caring or distant, demanding or indifferent. He can be whatever He chooses to be and I’m comfortable with that. Worshipping other gods would mean making conditions for G-d: I can see G-d as a saviour when I need saving; I see G-d as punishing when my enemy needs ‘killin’; He is the G-d of fertility when I need to be fertile. So I’m believing in one G-d, but only in bite size pieces as I feel the need. But to allow G-s to be whatever He wishes?! That’s too scary, too humbling. That’s not a ‘home’. We are treating G-d like a guest or visitor or worse.

So the first thing is – let G-d tell you what He is, what He wants, what He needs from you. He does this in Torah.

The second requirement is ‘light’. A home must be illuminated. Brightly. ‘Light’ here refers to relationship. Example: a marriage essentially involves a husband and wife living together. In the olden days it was, “I have a son, you have a daughter. Fine. They will be married.” What else do you need? And that would be a marriage. In point of fact it would constitute a sacred institution, inviolable. But the two people must also relate to each other, ‘know’ each other. Otherwise it will not be a complete home.

That is the light of the home that G-d desires: where He is Himself and we know Him, take pleasure in Him, love and fear Him, serve Him.


What Do We Know About Creation? – – Part V

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Continuing on last week’s thoughts…


I recall a particular afternoon some years ago, in the early 1960s, when thirty Jewish scientists from various Eastern universities attended one of the Rebbe’s Shabbat afternoon gatherings (called farbrengens.) The scientists sat among the Chassidim and listened while the Rebbe spoke in Yiddish, which they did’nt understand. During the break for singing, one of the Chassidim gave them a synopsis in English of what the Rebbe said. Even in English it didn’t mean much to them.

When the Rebbe resumed the discourse, he dedicated the next portion of his talk to the visitors, and for the next forty minutes he described the mystical Chassidic view of the universe. During the next break, the Chassid again translated the Rebbe’s words; “The Rebbe said that all matter is behavior, and we can see this behavior by observing nature closely”.

“Did he really say that?” one scientist asked. “Physics also defines nature as “observable behavior patterns.” The scientists who had come as curios observers began to wonder if the mystical and physical are compatible after all. Certainly, in the Rebbe’s world, the two are one. Of course, there are significant differences between the scientists’ view and Chassidus’ view. The scientist saw a mechanical universe. The Rebbe saw a warm, responsive universe with a beating heart.

Chassidus’ view of creation sheds new light on the phenomenon of miracles. The Rebbe pointed out that the miraculous events described in Torah are G-d doing what He always does, only varying the routine.

For instance, G-d usually tells water to flow downward, an instruction so familiar that we call it natural law. Then one day, somewhere in the Sinai, G-d told water to stand still: The water behaved like a wall to their right and to their left. This instruction happens so infrequently that some people call it a violation of natural law, and others call it a miracle. In truth, both standing still and running downward are miracles.

The Talmud tells the story of the sage, Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa, who arrived home one Friday evening, just as the sun was setting. As always on Fridays, he found the table set and his daughter preparing to light the Shabbat light. But something was amiss.

“Why do you look so unhappy?” he asked.

She answered that she had accidentally added vinegar to the oil in the Shabbat lights. “The vinegar will surely extinguish the flames,” she said.

“He who tells oil to burn will tell vinegar to burn” her father answered.

That Shabbat evening, vinegar burned.

Was it a miracle? We assume that oil burns because of its chemical properties, meaning, “I don’t know why, that’s just how it is.” Although we can see oil burning, there is no reason that oil must burn. The Rebbe, a mystic as well as a man of science, said that oil burns because G-d tells it to.

The same is true of all natural laws. We know that aspirin relieves a headache and we may even know how it does the job. Yet we’ll never know why. The Healer of all flesh instructs aspirin to subdue pain, usually. And usually, He tells water to flow downward and oil to burn. It’s all the same to them.


What Do We Know About Creation? – – Part IV

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I addressed a non-Jewish audience on this very subject – “Creationism” or “Intelligent Design.”  Here’s some of how I presented it to them:


He alone exists and there is nothing besides Him.

Some people imagine G-d to be something like a cosmic sculptor chiseling away at a chunk of primal stuff until it assumes the form he has in mind. Then, he polishes it, puts it on display, and then he walks away.

Unlike a sculptor, G-d creates the world out of nothing. He has no chunk of anything, and the entire effect of existence is the result of His effort. Nor can the new creation maintain its shape if G-d steps back from it.

Chassidus uses simple metaphors to explore the mysteries of the Unknown and the Unknowable. Imagine throwing a stone into the air. The force behind your throw give the stone the properties of flight; but no matter how often you throw it, no matter how often it soars through he air, it never becomes a flying stone. If you see a stone flying past your window you don’t marvel at the uniqueness of that particular stone. You simply wonder, “Who’s throwing stones?”

Just as a stone, even as it flies, is incapable of flight, the universe – even as it exists – is incapable of existing. If you stop throwing the stone is once again immobile. And if G-d stops creating, the universe will return to nothingness.

He is the only anything. Everything else is being “existed” by Him.

Let’s peel back another layer: G-d created the world out of absolute nothingness, meaning that G-d does not produce the world like a chicken produces an egg. Before being laid, the egg exists both in principle and in potential: In principle because a chicken is designed to lay eggs; in potential because an egg already exists in an incipient form long before you see it.

The creator and His creation have no such relationship. Physical matter does not preexist somewhere inside G-d. Nor is G-d programmed to produce universes. So how does G-d do it?

G-d calls the universe into existence with His words, “Let there be….”

Every created being, from angel to electron, obediently responds, then, unable to maintain its own existence, slips back into nothingness. G-d repeats the command and the being responds again, constantly. Creation recurs so rapidly and seamlessly like the frames of a motion picture, that we barely detect the blip of nothingness in between.

In the Tehillim, King David marvels at the beauty of constant creation: The heavens tell of G-d’s glory and the firmament speaks of His works. The cow in the meadow speaks of His works by being a cow every moment of its life. The electron tells of G-d’s glory by behaving like an electron every second of its existence.

The universe derives its energy from tension between being and not being. As matter pulses across the divide that separates existence from extinction, the world hums with the word of G-d, thus singing His praises.

This futuristic analysis of the cosmos was first described by the Baal Shem Tov almost three hundred years ago, when he called nature, “Matter behaving in the pattern assigned by G-d’s word.”

More of this soon…


What Do We Know About Creation? – – Part III

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Before we move on to the more distant origins of the universe, let’s look again at words and thought.

Words are necessary only when communicating with something outside of yourself. Words are revealed. Thought is for yourself, remaining inside and concealed.

G-d’s words are revealed to us. What they create we can see. We see grass, sky, water, stars etc. G-d’s thoughts are mysterious. We can’t see what He is thinking and we don’t understand what His thoughts create: suffering, death, evil, galus (exile.) These we don’t understand. Why? What is He thinking?

So we know what is happening but we don’t know why. Only with great effort and sensitive feelings can we learn something of His thoughts as stated in Torah, Chassidus, Kabbalah, Midrash.

One other distinction between words and thoughts: everything has both mass and energy. The energy of words is the meaning that they convey or what they tell you about the speaker. If the words reveal the speaker a lot, as when they come from the heart, you can feel the energy. But this energy is distributed into many words made of even more letters, and vocalized through the five organs of sound: lips, tongue, teeth, etc. This is why the world, created through words, has so many creatures so different from one another – a world of countless little beings all separated by their individual properties. Just like words.

Thought, on the other hand, is more inclusive. We think in general pictures, not in pixels. Maybe this explains the difficulty in concentrating. Thought sees the whole picture without its minute details and can get impatient with the little pieces of the puzzle.

So the universe in G-d’s thought is much more beautiful, peaceful, and whole.

More to come…

What Do We Know About Creation? – – Part II

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Of the three garments of the soul – thought, speech and action – only thought is continuous. There is “a time to speak and a time to refrain from speaking” but never a time to not think. Thought is constant.

This is because thought is closer to the soul and the soul never stops.

What does a soul do? (Not the G-dly soul, just a soul of any kind). A soul knows and feels – intelligence and emotions make up the soul’s faculties. Thought is the conscious awareness of what is going on in the soul. You are aware of the soul’s emotions (love, fear, etc.) and the soul’s store of knowledge. If you don’t know when you are frightened or that you are in love, that is an unhealthy thought function or malfunction of thought.

So the power behind thought is the emotion that produces it. The emotion of the heart excites the thoughts just as the thoughts excite the words. You can see this on the face of a person when his feelings flood into his thoughts even before he utters a word.

Thus the universe originates, not in speech or thought; it already exists in G-d’s kindness, severity, compassion, etc. The six days of creation are the results of six attributes within G-d. G-d felt generous – this created the thoughts and words of the first day. G-d felt judgmental – this created the thoughts and words of the second day, and so on.

So now, where does light come from? Divine kindness. The world begins in His kindness.

But where do emotions get their power? What creates kindness? What is their origin?

What Do We Know About Creation? – – Part I

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Ask anybody, “How was the world created?” They will tell you, “The world was created by the word of G-d.” G-d said “Let there be light” and there was light. But what does the word ‘light’ mean? Or what did it mean when it was first spoken? Since light had not yet existed, the word was meaningless.

We must understand these words to be not only names, but formulas.

Something like, H2O produces water. (O.K., it doesn’t produce water; it just describes its makeup).

Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe, explains in the Tanya that words are composed of letters, each letter having creative energy. Arrange the letters one way and you get one type of creation. Arranged differently you get another creation. Aleph-vov-reish is the ‘formula’ for light. Aleph-bais-nun is the ‘formula’ for stones.

Aleph-reish-yud is the ‘formula’ for lions, etc.

Where do letters get this power?

Speech means revelation. You reveal what is on your mind or in your heart by speaking. Words convey to others what is hidden in your thoughts. Thought has more energy than word because it is closer to the soul. This explains why speaking can bring relief from troubling thoughts. Thoughts are the soul of the words you speak; hence thoughtful words feel alive while thoughtless words feel hollow. Thus the energy behind the ‘word’ is the thought.

When you are searching for the origins of the universe you will want to get to the earliest beginnings of existence. You will, therefore, ask, “Where did the word of G-d come from?” The answer will be from His thoughts. He thought about creation before creating, thus the universe already existed in His mind before He spoke it into being.

Incidentally, during the week G-d creates the world with words, but on Shabbat He creates with thought alone. The world is holier on Shabbat because of this.

But… What produces thoughts?

We’ll get to that next week, G-d willing.



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Definitions are very helpful. For example: what does sadness mean? What is the experience of sadness? People say I feel sad. The truth is the correct definition of sadness is that you feel nothing. A person who is sad has blocked all feelings and will not feel joy or grief. So it is a non feeling, it is a lifelessness of the heart. And that is why sadness is unholy and is to be avoided to the extreme.